Seizing serendipity: WWII vet publishes novel

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I was privileged to interview Stan Parks, 92, for this Saturday feature in the Spokesman Review.

Stan Parks, 92, has been many things: sailor, dentist, world traveler, husband, father, grandfather, photographer, sculptor, civic leader. Recently, he added a new title to his resume: author.

In March he published his first novel, “Jakob’s Ladies,” through Gray Dog Press.

Tackling new projects is second nature to Parks, who also serves as president of the Spokane Downtown Kiwanis Club.

“I retired in 1982,” he said. Then he grinned. “But I didn’t really retire.”

 “Serendipity” is a word he uses often to describe the many opportunities he’s been able to embrace during his lifetime.

Born and raised in Chicago, Parks left his studies at Loyola University to join the Navy in 1942.

“Well, they let me finish my year at Loyola because I was part of the V-12 program,” he said.

The V-12 program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

The newly commissioned lieutenant junior grade was assigned to the USS LST-53, a tank landing ship, recently returned from the invasion of Normandy. Parks and his crew and were sent to the Pacific theater.

“When the war ended we were given the job of returning occupied troops to Japan,” he recalled. “I saw quite a bit of Japan. We picked up Japanese from outlying islands and brought them home so they could rebuild the country.”

After the war, he resumed his studies at Loyola. One evening a friend invited Parks to join him and his wife for dinner. Unbeknownst to Parks, he wasn’t the only guest.

“Serendipity,” he said, smiling. “I chatted with my friend for awhile and then his wife called us into dinner. I walked into the dining room and saw this beautiful young lady. Her name was Eleanor, but I called her Norie.”

More than six decades have passed since that fateful meeting, but his eyes still light up at the mention of her name.

“We married on Dec. 28, 1947,” he said.

They settled in Aurora where Parks established a thriving dental practice and where they raised their four children.

In 1978, he visited Guatemala, volunteering his time to provide dental services at a medical mission run by the Benedictines. The trip proved eye-opening for Parks, who mostly cared for the students at the mission school.

“They had absolutely nothing,” he said. “No dental care at all.”

He knew he’d have to return, which he did almost every year until 2004. With other dentists, he established a modern dental clinic, complete with everything they’d need to care for patients.

“The office is still there,” said Parks. “And dentists still go.”

When asked why he returned to Guatemala so many times he replied, “The satisfaction of helping those people. You can’t believe how little they had.”

After 32 years, Parks retired and he and Norie moved to Fort Meyers, Florida. His retirement from dentistry allowed him to pursue other passions.

“I did a lot of acting,” he said. “My wife and I joined the Peninsula Players. I really enjoyed it. My wife was a great actress.”

And there were the boats. The Norie 1, 2 and 3.

“They got bigger each time,” Parks said, laughing. “We spent a lot of time in the Bahamas, living on the boat.”

When their son moved to Spokane, Parks and his wife enjoyed visiting the area so much, they purchased a condo so they could spend more time here.

He’s always had an artist’s eye; framed photographs he’s taken throughout the years line the walls of his South Hill home. But he also likes to work with his hands, so when an opportunity to take a sculpting class from Sister Paula Turnbull came, he seized it.

“Talk about serendipity,” he said, pointing to several busts that he created under her tutelage.

One of those pieces is a bas relief featuring the face of his beloved Norie, who died five years ago.

Tears fill his eyes when he says her name.

“We were married 63 years. She was fabulous. As gorgeous as she was physically, she was that way on the inside, too. It’s hard without her.”

After her death, he moved to Spokane permanently to be near his son.

He went to see Turnbull upon his return to find out if she was offering more classes.

“She said she was too busy to teach, but she said I could work in her studio,” said Parks. “I loved it.”

When he heard about a writing class at the Sinto Senior Activity Center he decided to take it. He’d already penned his memoir.

“Well, it’s not really finished,” he said.

But he wanted to try his hand at fiction.

“If you don’t know how to do something, you can learn! It sharpens your mind.”

With encouragement from his writing group, he wrote “Jakob’s Ladies,” a historical novel set in 1895, about a dentist who goes out west to Sheridan, Wyoming, to launch his practice.

Parks did quite a bit of research, even traveling to Sheridan.

“I was in love with my characters. When one of them died – that was the hardest part to write.”

The book is dedicated to Norie, “My lady, my first mate, my only mate.”

He’s pondering a sequel, but he has plenty to keep him busy. He’s always been part of civic groups, so his leadership of the Downtown Kiwanis is a good fit.

“I can’t become a philanthropist and give away a fortune, but I can join a club like Kiwanis and give away pretty big chunks of money.”

At 92, he’s not resting on any laurels.

“There’s so much to be done and so many opportunities to do it,” said Parks. “I need 100 more years to do all the things I want to do.”

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